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2018 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Talk about a bad offseason. Terrell Edmunds, Tremaine Edmunds and Tim Settle all declared early for the NFL draft. Adonis Alexander entered the NFL Supplemental Draft after being dismissed from the team. Mook Reynolds was dismissed. Galen Scott was forced to resign. Jeremy Webb tore his achilles tendon. The best news was Josh Jackson’s near miss with an academic issue. Wow. That’s a bad offseason.

But there is hope for 2018. There are a lot of talented young players who will get their opportunity to step up. The schedule isn’t that tough and the Hokies should be in position for another good year if they can get some young guys to step up – particularly on defense.

Offense

Josh Jackson is back 100% healthy after getting banged up in the 2nd half of last season. He’s a smart QB with a good arm and can run the ball when needed. He reminds me a lot of Bryan Randall. He’s never going to draw comparisons to Michael Vick or Lamar Jackson, but he has all the tools to get the job done. He’s good at taking care of the ball and no one knows the playbook like he does. This year he will have more help around him. He can be really good and put up big numbers with the right supporting cast around him.

Virginia Tech will get more production from the running back position. Gone is Travon McMillian but the Hokies have a couple of other guys who are good fits for the offense. I’m most excited about Deshawn McClease. McClease rushed for 265 yards in his last three games with over a 5 yard per carry average in each of those games. And…

That’s some pretty good company. Jalen Holston had his moments in 2017. Steven Peoples can always pick up the tough yards. And you have Coleman Fox who can add some energy and speed when he gets into a game. The guy to watch this season is Deshawn McClease and his progression in this offense.

The wide receivers are young but talented. Damon Hazelton, the sophomore transfer from Ball State, looks like a breakout candidate for the Hokies. Reports are he gave the scout team a lot of trouble last year when he was redshirting. Expect Sean Savoy to build on the big season he had last year. Also keep an eye on Phil Patterson who had the catch of the year in the Spring Game. He could also be a breakout candidate this year. But the guys I will be keeping my eye on are Hazelton and Savoy.

An underrated position group is the tight end group. Dalton Keene looks the part and you can expect to see him have a bigger role in the offense this season. True freshman James Mitchell is already getting rave reviews in practice. And Chris Cunningham will continue to be a dangerous red zone target. This year we will see more production out of this group in the passing game.

The offensive line looks good on paper. They lost Wyatt Teller who brought a lot of toughness to the group but this is a talented and experienced group. It’s also a group of guys playing in their positions of strength. It’s a good mix of experience and young talent for depth. That’s usually a good combination. This position group has 10 guys in the two-deep that are game ready. This should be a good group.

The offense should be better than last season. I think this side of the ball could see a bigger improvement than most are expecting. At Memphis, year 3 under Justin Fuente is when the offense really took off. A healthy Josh Jackson will make a big difference. Fuente has had two years to recruit his players into this offense. The product this year should resemble Fuente’s vision for his offense more than his first two seasons in Blacksburg. They’ll need it with so many young guys on the defense.

Defense

The defense is the area of concern for the Hokies this year. Youth everywhere. This is what you would have to call a rebuilding year. But the Hokies still have Bud Foster. Bud Foster can only cover for so many young players. The beginning of the year might be rough.

The starting defensive line looks really good but it is not a deep group. This is the one area of the defense where there is experience. But there is not much behind the starters. The young guys are going to have to step up to give the starters a breather. The depth is concerning but the Hokies have some young talent that should be able to step up to fill out the two-deep. The Hokies need to avoid injuries from the starters. The guy to watch on the line is Ricky Walker, he has All-ACC and All-American potential. Two breakout guys to keep an eye on are Houshun Gaines and Tyjuan Garbutt.

The linebacker group is young and inexperienced. The linebacker group will have three first year starters this season. But there is an injection of talent in this group. Expect the group to struggle early in the season but they should be pretty solid as the season goes on. I feel good about the talent level here but not the experience level. Names to keep an eye on here are Devon Hunter, Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield.

The secondary is also young and inexperienced. Are you sensing a trend here? I like the talent but there is just not much experience here. This secondary will take it’s lumps early in the season but will build confidence as the season goes on. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of mixing and matching with the group to find the four starters the coaches want to roll with. You can expect Reggie Floyd and Divine Deablo to start at the safety positions. The corners will be manned by whoever can win the position battles this August. The breakout candidates in the secondary are Bryce Watts, Caleb Farley and Jovonn Quillen.

The defense will take a step back to start the season. You can’t lose the amount of talent the Hokies lost and hope to improve. I do think this will be a good defense but it will take a couple of games before it gels. This won’t look like a Bud Foster defense in the first half of the year. Too many young players. Good news is that there is a lot of speed and talent, and you’ll see it come together nicely in October and November.

Special Teams

Aside from Oscar Bradburn expect a lot of new faces on special teams. Brian Johnson should take over field goal duties. The Hokies will need to find new kick and punt returners now that Greg Stroman is gone. Bryce Watts and CJ Carroll should get an opportunity on punt returns. Jovonn Quillen is a candidate to return kicks along with Caleb Farley and Cole Beck (if he doesn’t get redshirted).

2018 Outlook

The Hokies biggest obstacle to a division championship is Miami. The good news about this year is that the Hokies get Miami at home and a lot of national experts like the Hokies chances in that matchup.

The Hokies have some big match-ups this years. They open the season with Florida State in Tallahassee. They get Notre Dame at home in week 6. Then they get Miami at home on the second-to-last week of the regular season. Those three games will be important in determining the Hokies’ season.

Watch out for games at Duke, Georgia Tech at home, Boston College at home, and Pittsburgh on the road. Those are games where the Hokies could stumble if they are not careful. The Hokies need to avoid the upset bug in 2018.

Key games for the Hokies: at Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami
Upset Alert: at Duke

Date Opponent Prediction
Mon, Sep 3 @ Florida State* L
Sat, Sep 8 William and Mary W
Sat, Sep 15 East Carolina W
Sat, Sep 29 @ Old Dominion W
Sat, Sep 30 @ Duke L
Sat, Oct 6 Notre Dame* L
Sat, Oct 13 @ North Carolina W
Thu, Oct 25 Georgia Tech W
Sat, Nov 3 Boston College W
Sat, Nov 10 @ Pittsburgh W
Sat, Nov 17 Miami* L
Fri, Nov 23 Virginia W

Final Regular Season Record: 8-4 (5-3 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: Unranked
Predicted Bowl Game: Music City Bowl in Nashville

278_-music_city_bowl-primary-2010

Old Dominion Preview and Prediction

The Hokies are 3-0 with a big win over a good WVU team and wins over two overmatched teams. The Hokies hope to finish a perfect non-conference schedule this week against Old Dominion.

S&P+ Rankings

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 25th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 67th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 13th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 47th

Old Dominion

Overall S&P+ ranking: 100th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 99th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 85th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 88th

Why should ODU be a concern for the Hokies? First off, always worry about an in-state team with something to prove. The Hokies are the class of the state of Virginia. The Monarchs would love nothing more than to knock them off their perch. Don’t overlook a motivated in-state team. The Hokies found that out the hard way a couple of years ago against JMU.

ODU has only been an FBS team for the last 4 years. Last year, they won 10 games in Conference USA and won the Bahamas Bowl. They were a legit G5 team. This season they’ve taken a step back. ODU got blown out against the only P5 team that they have played (UNC).

In this matchup, the Hokies are going to need to focus on keeping the ODU pass rushers off of Josh Jackson. ODU leads the nation in sacks. They should present a challenge for the offensive line. One which I expect they will win considering ODU only got one sack against UNC.

ODU is in a tough spot trying to pull an upset in Lane Stadium. They have significant injuries on offense and they are starting a 17-year-old true freshman quarterback. Not to mention they have also had trouble moving the ball on the ground this season. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success against the Hokies.

On paper, this matchup shouldn’t be close. The Hokies are statistically better almost across the board. In some cases, drastically better. ODU will be starting a young, true freshman quarterback in Lane Stadium against Bud Foster. Yikes! ODU is slightly better than ECU, so they will give the Hokies a little more resistance than the Pirates did but either way it won’t matter much. Hokies take care of business and move on to a big showdown against Clemson next week.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 52, Old Dominion 13

 

West Virginia Preview and Prediction

I don’t like West Virginia. They are my least favorite college football team. That feeling goes back to the games between the Hokies and WVU in the early 2000’s. I am not a fan of their program or their fans. But playing them is what makes college football great. Evenly matched teams. Passionate fan bases. And a rivalry that matters to both sides. It’s sad that this rivalry had to take a 12 year hiatus but a break was needed.

It’s strange to dive back into this rivalry. If you were a freshman in 2005, you’d be 30 now. Safe to say there are a lot of Hokies that don’t remember this rivalry – which might be a good thing. The football part of the rivalry made for some exciting games. The animosity in the stands was not healthy for either school. We’ll see where we’re at on Sunday. I hope both fan bases have had some time to reflect and gain some perspective in the last 12 years.

Projected S&P+ Rankings for 2017:

Virginia Tech: 25th
West Virginia: 69th

Will Grier has proven that he can be an effective Power 5 quarterback. He has a nice resume dating back to his time at Florida. The VT secondary is the strength of the defense. Which makes me think that WVU will focus on Grier’s running ability. I have seen countless games where a running quarterback gives a Bud Foster defense fits. I imagine WVU will lean on the ground game instead of throwing into the teeth of the Hokies’ defense.

The left side of the West Virginia offensive line does not bring back a lot of experience. They are going to struggle to keep Virginia Tech’s starting defensive line off of Will Grier. This is why I’d expect to see WVU to lean on the running game in this game. They would be smart to keep the ball on the ground.

I’m worried about the Hokies offense getting off to a slow start. I like the individual pieces on the offense but I’m worried about them getting into a groove in the first game of the season. It’s like the Tennessee game last year. The individual pieces on offense were there but they did not come together in time for the Battle at Bristol. I could see something similar happening in this game. The defense is going to have to carry the load in this one.

What’s giving me the most confidence in this matchup is the VT coaching staff vs the WVU coaching staff. I have a lot of confidence in our guys compared to theirs. It’s a mismatch and that mismatch will show itself on the field. Bud Foster has not forgotten about this rivalry. An angry Bud Foster is a great Bud Foster.

At first, I was thinking the Hokies would win this game by around 10 points. The new offensive pieces and the FedEx Field factor make me a little nervous. But I still think the Hokies are the better team. This game is like the last game preview I wrote for the Belk Bowl – it’ll be a close game but I like the Hokies to win it. This is a great week to go 1-0.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, West Virginia 24

Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

You take conference road wins however you can get them. Even if they are ugly. Getting the win is all that matters. Hokies took care of business on the road at Duke last week. Each week the games get bigger.

Georgia Tech is next. This is a team that gives the Hokies fits every year. This year should be no different. This is an offense that stays in every game. They don’t often get blown out. They limit possessions on both sides of the ball. That means your offense has to be efficient.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 17th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 56th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 11th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 36th

Georgia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 62nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 81st
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 74th

How will Bud Foster’s reshuffled lineup perform against the Georgia Tech offense? If there was a game where you’d feel okay losing Greg Stroman and Terrell Edmunds, it’s this one. However, you’re asking your backups not to make many assignment errors. That can be a lot to ask sometimes. Either way, I think Bud Foster knows this offense well enough to make those adjustments. He will put his players in a position to succeed.

This is a game where the Hokies offense should be able to move the ball. First, the Hokies offense has been excellent at home. The Hokies have averaged 46.7 points per game against FBS opponents at Lane Stadium this year. The Georgia Tech defense has had trouble stopping opponents this year. They don’t give up the big play but you can dink and dunk them downfield all day long. Expect the Hokies to put up some points in this game.

You worry about the reshuffled lineup on defense. You never know how that’s going to go against a dangerous Georgia Tech offense. But if there is someone who knows how to scheme against that offense, it’s Bud Foster. Also, this offense has been lights out at home. They look like a completely different team in Lane Stadium. If the defense can hold up and not have too many assignment issues, I expect the Hokies will be fine. I never go into this game expecting a comfortable win. But if the Hokies play at home like they have all season, I’m feeling pretty good.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Georgia Tech 21

Duke Preview and Prediction

The Hokies were finally able to break the curse of Heinz Field. It took a gritty effort and for the first time in a long time, the offense had to pick up Bud Foster’s defense. That is not something that happened often in the Beamer era. In big games on the road, only one thing matters and that’s winning. The Hokies found a way to win at Heinz Field and now are in the driver’s seat for the Coastal division.

The word of the week is focus. Top 25 teams get upset every week by unranked opponents. There are no easy wins in the Power 5. Teams need to show up focused. It’s not easy to come off a big win on the road then come ready to play the next week. Earlier this season, the Hokies notched a huge win against UNC then put up a dud against Syracuse the next week. Let’s hope the Hokies learned from that experience.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 13th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 41st
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 8th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 19th

Duke

Overall S&P+ ranking: 72nd
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 88th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 44th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 108th

On paper, the Hokies have a significant advantage in this matchup. Duke is without their starting QB, Thomas Sirk, he was lost for the season in August. They are also without their top running back, Jela Duncan. This is a team that should struggle to move the ball against the Hokies’ defense. They also have a quarterback who has thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. This seems like an offense that Bud Foster’s group should be able to slow down.

Duke can give teams trouble when they are on defense. They are good at limiting teams thru the air but have been prone to give up the big play from time to time. The Hokies are going to have to try to stretch the Duke defense by going deep to one of their three deep threats. Like they did against Pitt. The Duke defense is also good at limiting teams in the red zone, which the Hokies struggled with last week. They will have to be better this week.

Duke is a team to worry about because David Cutcliffe teams do not beat themselves. Every FBS game that Duke has played this year was decided a margin of 14 points or less. Duke does not get blown out. They don’t commit many penalties and play solid defense. They are not the type of team you can expect to walk over.

If there are two areas the Hokies can look to turn the game, it’s turnovers and special teams. This may be a game where the Hokies can show off a little new-look Beamerball. Daniel Jones has thrown 9 interceptions this year. Duke is ranked 125th in the nation with 12 lost fumbles. And they have not been particularly strong on special teams (see S&P+ ranking above).  They particularly struggle on punt coverage and converting field goals. Keep an eye out for turnovers and special teams in this game.

This game will not be a cakewalk. Duke is a legit team and can absolutely upset the Hokies. The same way Syracuse did. If the Hokies show up focused like the did against Miami and Pitt, they should be fine and roll to a comfortable win. If they start slow or sleepwalk like they did against Syracuse, they could be in trouble. I do think there will be a bit of an emotional letdown after the Pitt game. I still think the Hokies win and pull away in the 4th quarter.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Duke 17

Syracuse Preview and Prediction

Hokies took care of business against UNC. Three straight blowouts can really inject a lot of life into a fan base. After the Tennessee game, fans were wondering if this team would make a bowl game. Now folks are talking New Year’s Six bowl. A lot can change in a couple of weeks.

On to Syracuse. Long-time Hokies fans still have nightmares about the Carrier Dome. That dome has seen a lot of weird games between the Hokies and the Orange. It also has not been particularly kind to the Hokies. But those games were a long time ago. Different coaching staffs and two different programs at this point in time. The players on these teams were young children the last time these teams played.

This Syracuse team reminds me a lot of the Tulsa team the Hokies played in the Independence Bowl. A great offensive passing attack with one really good play-making wide receiver (Amba Etta-Tawo). And not much of anything else. Didn’t that Tulsa team only lose to the Hokies by 3? They did. But Bud Foster’s D is playing much better this year than they were in the bowl game.

Virginia Tech

S&P+ Overall Ranking: 19th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 96th
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 4th
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 22nd

Syracuse

S&P+ Overall Ranking: 68th
S&P+ Offensive Ranking: 43rd
S&P+ Defensive Ranking: 96th
S&P+ Special Teams Ranking: 71st

The Hokies have the clear advantage on defense. Even though Syracuse has an excellent passing attack, the Hokies should be able to slow it down. Syracuse also reminds me of ECU, who was able to have some success in the passing game. But the Hokies were still able to limit ECU below their season average. Syracuse does not take a lot of shots downfield. They are a dink and dunk West Coast offense but they still put up a lot of yards.

Key matchup to watch: Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks vs. Amba Etta-Tawo. Etta-Tawo is one of the best wide receivers in the ACC and one of the best the Hokies will see all season. He leads the ACC in receiving yards. It will be a tough task for the Hokies corners to cover him all day.

Syracuse has lost to every decent team they’ve played this year. Their only wins were against Colgate and UConn. All their losses have been blowouts. Syracuse excels in the passing game and at punt returns (#1 in the nation!) but does not do much of anything else well.

I expect the Hokies to have a bit of a letdown in this game. It’s just so hard to play so well for four consecutive games. Eventually you’re going to have one that’s not exactly a masterpiece. This is a classic trap game on the road sandwiched in between two games against ranked opponents. Even if the Hokies don’t play their best, I still think they can win comfortably. Syracuse is not a great team. In fact, they’re not very good overall. Imagine if this team was playing last year’s Tulsa team, they’d probably win… by a lot. The talent advantage is clearly on the Hokies’ side in this matchup.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Syracuse 17

2016 Virginia Tech Season Preview

It’s a new day. The Justin Fuente era. Virginia Tech found an elite offensive mind to pair with Bud Foster. On paper it looks like a match made in heaven but what will it look like when the pads go on?

The hire was well received by the college football world. Most said it was one off the best hires of the offseason, if not the best.

But what does Fuente inherit? Is the cupboard full? Half-full? Empty? Does he have what he needs to win in year 1? Let’s take a look EA Sports NCAA Football-style.

Coach:

justin-fuente

Offensive Coordinator:

brad-cornelsen

Defensive Coordinator:

bud-foster

Quarterback:

jerod-evans

Running Backs:

running-backs

Wide Receivers:

wide-receivers

Tight Ends:

tight-ends

Offensive Line:

offensive-line

Defensive Line:

defensive-line

Linebackers:

linebackers

Defensive Backs:

defensive-backs

Specialists:

specialists

Prediction:

prediction